‘Stand-off’ at prison sparks safety fears

Staff, politicians and union bosses have all expressed grave misgivings about staff levels at HMP Northumberland after Friday’s ‘stand-off’.

A disturbance took place when around 50 prisoners refused to return to their cells in one wing of the Acklington prison, which became just the second privatised facility in the country when Sodexo Justice Services took over in December.

It followed an announcement in October that up to 200 jobs could go after Sodexo took control.

One prison officer, who did not wish to be named, told the Herald there have been a number of incidents recently including rooftop protests and attempted escapes.

“The whole jail is a powder keg waiting for the spark.

“There will be more trouble that’s for sure,” he said.

Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith has taken up the issue and wants assurances from his Government’s Prisons Minister.

“I have sent a series of urgent and detailed questions to Sodexo and the Prisons Minister following last Friday’s incident,” he said yesterday.

Meanwhile, the county council has announced a working group is being set up to look into issues surrounding the privatisation.

A Sodexo Justice Services spokesman said: “We can confirm there was a disturbance on Friday night in part of one wing.

“We congratulate all the staff involved in the incident for the professional way in which they resolved the situation.

“There was minimal damage to the affected area and the prison returned to its normal regime by Saturday morning.

“We are now carrying out an investigation into the incident.”